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Smart Manufacturing in the Age of Digitalization

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

DETROIT — Manufacturing competitiveness depends on working faster, smarter, and better, with the convergence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices and smart sensors, software and data analytics. At this week’s Smart Manufacturing Seminar Series: The Digital Transformation event put on by SME (Dearborn, MI) at the NextEnergy Inc.’s (Detroit) headquarters, manufacturing executives and attendees got a glimpse of what it takes to reach cutting-edge smart manufacturing levels today, and how to gain competitive advantages in the IIoT-fueled future.

The massive push toward digitizing everything in manufacturing means industrial builders must quickly get on board in embracing the disparate elements in smarter manufacturing methods, whether they’re called smart manufacturing, digital manufacturing, or Industry 4.0. In his opening remarks, retired Ford Motor Co. manufacturing executive John Fleming noted that manufacturers have some big challenges before them. “It is a huge opportunity to make everybody smarter, faster, better,” Fleming said.

Companies like GE (Fairfield, CT) have taken the plunge with its Brilliant Factory initiative that melds together a wide range of manufacturing methodologies and digital technologies. In describing GE’s digitalization journey, Bart Weihl, GE Executive, Global Operations, Advanced Manufacturing Initiatives Group, said the company combines the elements of six sigma, lean manufacturing and operational excellence with the Digital Thread technologies to make a Brilliant Factory. “Digitalization is the piece that gives us data capture, access, 3D models, visibility, and analytics,” Weihl said.

General Electric’s Robert Borchelt (left) and Bart Weil (right) described GE’s journey into digitalization with its Brilliant Factory Initiative.

At the forefront of this sea change is software, noted Robert Borchelt, GE’s Industrial Solutions-Brilliant Factory Leader, and CIO-Advanced Manufacturing Deployment, with the company leveraging its digital tools to the utmost. “The way that you go to business and make revenue has changed,” Borchelt said. “It’s about understanding where your opportunities are.”

With its Digital Twin, GE easily tracks every aircraft engine produced in its factories, employing inexpensive IIoT sensors on its older equipment, Borchelt said, while employing its Predix IIoT software platform, which is available to everyone, that speeds factory data to global systems as well as smartphone users.

Other major digital technology companies, including software developers Dassault Systèmes (Paris) and Siemens AG (Munich and Berlin), presented their approach to the new world. Fred Thomas, Delmia marketing director, Dassault Systèmes, said customers are embracing the company’s 3DExperience approach. “It’s because we believe products are no longer enough,” Fleming said. “Nobody wants to be called a car company anymore—everyone wants to be a mobility company.” The digital continuity throughout global manufacturing operations is all about managing intellectual capital and process knowledge, he added.

Delivering on the cloud promise with timely, accurate data is another key to making Industry 4.0 happen. With today’s highly digital CNC shops, leveraging digitized cutting-tool data is a must for smart manufacturing, noted Chuck Mathews, managing director, MachiningCloud GmbH (Stans, Switzerland), a provider of cloud-based digitized cutting-tool databases. “In the world of CNC machining, the Number One thing is to repair the broken threads,” said Mathews.

Many CNC shops today simply don’t have access to digitized data, but instead rely on paper-based data—or even phone calls—to get what they need, he added. CNC machine shops instead need digital data that speaks the same language, Mathews noted, using well-established standards such as ISO 13399, GTC (Generic Tool Catalog), STEP (ISO 10303, the Standard for the Exchange of Product model data) and the MTConnect standard for sharing machine tool process information.

“When you talk about digital and smart manufacturing, the highest value is in the CNC tooling,” stated Mathews, noting that cutting tools are a $15-billion industry. “It’s inertia,” he added of the delay in embracing this digital data. “We have to overcome the conservative nature of the industry.”

Analytics also are another vital element of smart manufacturing, taking advantage of the explosion of data being pumped out of factories. The manufacturing industry has undergone a major technological evolution since the 1960s, noted Paul Ballew, Global Chief Data & Analytics Officer, Global Data Insight & Analytics, Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI). “There are more than 100 million lines of code in a product like the Mustang,” Ballew noted. A systematic approach is required to realize the full potential of data analytics with the IoT, he said.

Ford’s Paul Ballew

“In my tenure, very few companies have done it and done it well,” Ballew said. “In the automotive business, there is a frustration that we’re data-rich, but insight-poor, and the ability to integrate that data is needed.”

Software will be one more key enabler for manufacturers in the future. “What we’re showing isn’t a choice—we’re all in the software business now,” said Tom Elswick, director of business development, Automation Products, Factory Automation, Siemens Industry Inc. Digital Factory Division (Norcross, GA).

To be competitive, manufacturers need to achieve enormous improvements in manufacturing processes, said Elswick, citing Siemens’ factory in Amberg, Germany, using MES (manufacturing execution systems) integration on more than 50 million processes or items to date, and adding OPC UA into its controllers. “We have to reduce or eliminate the number of physical prototypes,” Elswick said. “Companies embracing digitalization are already seeing benefits and are better prepared for the future.”

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